Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Teachers' Notes

Resource created by Leeds Museums and Galleries

The aim of this resource is to engage pupils with concepts of bravery, duty, heroism and military honours by looking at six First World War medals and the stories behind them.

It will also provide an overview of different medal designs and why specific colours, shapes and materials were used.

A Global View

WW1: As the name suggests, the First World War (1914-1918) involved many countries across the globe. Initially, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in Eastern Europe for resisting its imperial control. The declaration prompted a domino effect as countries stepped in one after another to support their allies on each side. Eventually, this meant that countries such as Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy were at war with countries including Britain, France and Russia. As some of these had their own empires, the countries within the empires were made to fight too, supporting their rulers, or were attacked by their rulers’ enemies. For example, troops from India, Australia and New Zealand fought for Britain and the Indian army attacked German colonies in Africa. In 1917, the USA joined the war on Britain’s side. Consequently, huge portions of the world ended up entangled in the conflict.

Hand drawn map of Europe in 1914, printed onto a cotton handkerchief
Map of Europe in 1914, Printed on Cotton Handkerchief

Curriculum Links

  • KS3 History : Local history study | First World War
  • KS4 History: First World War

Learning Objectives

  • Knowledge of a variety of First World War medals, including why they were awarded, what their respective designs stood for, and real life stories of the individuals who received them
  • Understanding of the extent to which the scale of the First World War affected ordinary people's lives, what different roles were carried out, and why people may have had contrasting views about receiving the various medals awarded.
  • Skills to examine historical artefacts and the stories behind them and relate this to present day experiences and events. Also design skills in creating your own medal.

This resource supports the online interactive 'Our First World War Guardians' by providing additional background information to the activities within it, and putting them into context.  On the interactive, you can design and name your own medal, write about what your medal would be awarded for, then preview it in 3D and print a PDF version!

Images of all the medals featured in this resource are available to download as a separate PDF or PPT file and there is a picture quiz and a blank medal template to download too on the Resources page.

Discussion Ideas

  • Why do you think we decided to use the word 'Guardians' to describe our First World War medal recipients, and not 'Heroes'? Do you agree with our decision? Which people do you think deserve to be called heroes and why?
  • Read about the different roles of the six people in this resource - which role would you have been most suited to, and which one least, and why? Which role would you have chosen? (Remember, many people did not have the choice at the time!)
  • Were any of the roles more important than the others - for instance, was the role of a nurse or stretcher bearer less important than that of a soldier? Give reasons for your answers.
  • What do you think people felt when they received medals in the War either for themselves or for their relatives?
    Were there cases when people might not have been pleased to receive one?
  • Read the news story about veterans rejecting their medals in 2015 (via the link below to Veterans of Peace website). Why do you think they decided to return the medals? What do you think it means to 'reject war'?

Activity Ideas

  • Group activity:
    Divide the class into six groups and ask each group to research one of the different roles carried out by the people featured in this resource (use the online interactive 'Our First World War Guardians' as well as the supporting links in the resources section). Each group could produce a fact file for their role, then debate with the others who had the more important role.
  • Medals then and now:
    Find out what medals are still awarded to servicemen and women today, then choose three of them and research some of the people who have received these medals. Make a list showing who they were awarded to, and for what.   Compare your results with the six WW1 medals in this resource.
  • Make your own timeline map:
    1. Look at the interactive timeline map of Europe during the First World War and read about the eight events shown. Research other events of the War and mark the dates and locations on your own map. For example, you could show battle sites on the Western Front or the sinking of battleships.

    You can also download and print a PDF copy of the 1914 map of Europe.

    2. Browse the stories of how the War affected people in the UK and Ireland on the BBC 'WW1 at Home' website (see Supporting Links in 'Resources') and choose one that mentions several different places in Europe. Plot the events and locations on the 1914 map of Europe. You could add events from several stories by using different colour codes on your map.
Art and Design:
  • Design your own medal online
    Go to the interactive 'Our First World War Guardians' and create a medal design using either of the two ideas below:
    1. Think of a person or a group of people who wouldn't normally be awarded a medal (such as conscientious objectors) and design something to reflect their thoughts or beliefs.
    2. Choose one of our six Guardians, or another First World War participant that you have researched, and design a medal specifically for them.

    Give your medal a name and write a brief paragraph describing why it is to be awarded, then print a copy to keep (a PDF can be downloaded on the 'make a medal' interactive).
  • Colour in the blank medal template with your own design, then cut out and wear your medal - use a safety pin or double sided sticky tape. Or you could award your medal to one of your friends, relatives or teachers!
  • Download the Royal Mint Museum's 'Making Medals' fact sheet to print out and colour in.
  • Research an individual who was involved in the First World War, then create your own graphic story (like the ones in our interactive) illustrating his or her role in the War.
  • Take the Medal Challenge Quiz - how many of our First World War medals can you identify from the close-up photos? (see Documents in Resources).